Jeff Jones was one of the Gophers football team’s highest-ranked recruits in decades when he signed out of Minneapolis Washburn last year. Halfway through his redshirt freshman season, Jones has yet to touch the ball.
Jones was academically ineligible last season, but after getting cleared to play, he looked like a potential impact player at wide receiver during spring practice. Injuries have since slowed his progress considerably.
Coach Jerry Kill offered his most detailed explanation to date Thursday during his radio show with KFAN (100.3-FM).
“Schoolwise, he’s doing good,” Kill said of Jones. “But he’s had one thing after another from a medical standpoint. He was going to travel with us last week [to Purdue] but didn’t travel.
“He hasn’t been able to practice a lot. He’s got a migraine issue. It’s not an easy thing.”
Rivals.com ranked Jones as the nation’s 44th-best recruit in the 2014 class, and the No. 7 running back. Jones had said he’d be willing to switch to wide receiver if it helped him get on the field faster.
The Gophers have since had two freshmen take over most of the carries at tailback — Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith.
Jones played against TCU, Kent State and Ohio, getting a few chances to line up on offense, and playing some special teams. He has missed the past two games and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.
“It has nothing to do with talent,” Kill said. “Plus, he’s a freshman. You’ve got to be patient. David Cobb [emerged as a junior], you know — it takes time. It’s not an easy process.”
• Smith was questionable last week with an unspecified health issue. Kill said the running back is feeling better this week. The coach told KFAN, “We’re banged up at running back. That’s all I’ll say about that.” But neither Smith nor Brooks was listed on Thursday’s injury report.
• Kill said it looks as if All-Big Ten cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun will be ready to return from his knee injury for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.
• Kill said freshman wide receiver Isaiah Gentry (hamstring) is hurt again. He has missed three games.
Croft being tested
Backup quarterback Demry Croft got an extended chance to play last week at Purdue after the Gophers built a 38-6 lead. In two games, the true freshman is 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) for 34 yards, and has also rushed nine times for 38 yards.
Junior Mitch Leidner remains the starter and has completed 57.9 percent of his passes.
Asked about Croft, Kill told KFAN, “Can we play him a little bit in certain situations? Yeah, we can.”
Kill said it will require shrinking the playbook a bit. The coach noted how his staff was able to do that for Jordan Lynch in 2010 when he was a freshman backup to Chandler Harnish at Northern Illinois.
“I’ve been hard on [Croft] the last couple weeks, kind of testing him to see if he can take the pressure,” Kill said. “He’s doing OK. He’s still got a lot to learn.”